Maine Campers Describe Storm as ‘Scary Event’
A young girl injured Monday (Aug. 9) when a tree fell on her family’s tent during a camping trip to the Flat Rock Bridge Family Resort in Maine is improving following emergency surgery, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported.
Rescue officials did not release the girl’s identity, but WMTW News 8, Portland, said she is Emily Malewitz, of Millis, Mass. She was upgraded from critical to serious condition at Maine Medical Center in Portland, authorities said. She was rushed to the hospital after a tree came down and crushed her family’s car and tent at a campsite during what officials described as a freak storm around 6 p.m. Monday.
On Tuesday, National Weather Service officials visited the town to determine exactly what occurred. Though Lebanon Rescue officials reported witnesses said a funnel-like wind took tree limbs and scattered them everywhere, meteorologist Michael Cempa confirmed Tuesday no tornado or microburst struck the area.
Rather, a thunderstorm featuring straight line winds blowing at 60 mph to the southeast took down numerous trees and branches, Cempa said. The National Weather Service made that determination following interviews with people at the camp and observations of the scene, he said.
Officials described it as a freak storm that came and went in only a few minutes. Flat Rock Bridge Resort owner and General Manager John Hastings said it only took two minutes for the storm to do its damage. A total of six trees fell on the grounds, including those that struck the family’s Toyota minivan and tent. Six people were in the tent at the time, including the girl, her parents and her three siblings, who all sought shelter from the storm. Rescue officials said the children are quadruplets.
Lebanon Assistant Rescue Chief Jason Cole said Rescue Capt. Alan Therrien arrived on scene within five minutes of the initial call and found two large sections of trees had come down. Cole said the most difficult aspect of the rescue was removing the limbs that hampered access to the tent.
Crews attempted to get a medical helicopter to the scene, but the storm prevented them from coming close. Cole said they instead brought the girl to Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.H. to be stabilized before rushing her to Maine Medical’s trauma center. The siblings were also treated for minor injuries at Frisbie, he said.
Since no staff members were near the family’s campsite when the trees came down, Hastings said other campers were the first to reach the scene. He said the campers helped stabilize the girl before rescue crews arrived.
“It was a fluke storm. We didn’t know it was coming,” he said, adding he has never seen anything like it in six years of running the resort.
Evan Coffey was one of the campground’s employees who responded to the scene. Though he said it was a scary sight, he added it was nice to see a group of strangers rally to provide assistance.
“The scene was scary,” he said. “Two minutes of really strong wind. That was all it took.”
Cole credited the actions of camp employees, noting the Rescue Department has trained with them for emergencies. He said 60 to 70 people were crowded around the scene when rescue crews arrived and the employees did a good job of clearing space and keeping onlookers at a distance.
“The staff at the campground did an exceptional job,” he said.
For Cole and other emergency personnel, the scene was painful due to the patient’s age. It was clear right away her injuries were critical and life threatening, he said, noting she was pinned under the tree for an estimated 10 minutes and lost consciousness for a time.
“It really puts (things) in perspective when you see a little girl the same age as yours and she’s seriously hurt,” he said, adding crews were touched when they brought the girl’s siblings to the campground’s store and all they wanted to buy was a stuffed animal for their sister. “That hits home when you see the children all give up things for themselves to help their sister,” he said.
Those at the campgrounds on Monday said it was a beautiful afternoon and the storm ripped through with little warning. Hastings was preparing for a camp activity; others were just setting up their campsites and had to dodge flying debris; and still others were preparing dinner and had little time to react to the quick moving storm.
On Tuesday, campers described it as a scary event, but said it would not deter them from enjoying the outdoors.
“That’s not going to stop us from camping. We’ve been camping for years,” said Barbara Johnson, of Shrewsbury, Mass. “It will make us be more careful when a storm’s coming.”
Johnson said she and her husband, Ed, were cooking dinner when the storm hit. She was trying to boil water when the pan starting bouncing. Her husband was yelling to her, but she could not hear him because the wind was so loud, she said.
“It was raining, then all of a sudden it was just pouring,” said Ed Johnson, adding the winds ripped the awning off his camper.
They extended their sympathy and best wishes to the Malewitz family, as did Jim Craven and his family, of Munson, Mass. Craven was also on the grounds when the storm hit.
“The wind came whipping out,” he said. The white birch trees near his camper were bent over and he struggled to hold his awning in place during the short storm. “It was a heck of a wind storm.”
Rescue crews checked around the 350-site campground, but found no other injuries. All units cleared the scene at 10 p.m. Responding to the scene were Lebanon Rescue, Lebanon Emergency Management officials, York County Emergency Management, a Milton ambulance and Frisbie crews.
A posting on Lebanon Rescue’s Facebook page indicated officials spoke with the girl’s family and she appeared to be in stable condition. Doctors told the family she was “extremely lucky,” the post said.